The world, by all indications, is experiencing a moment that can be called a great crisis. We can assume that it will be a turning point in modern history. For several months since the advent of COVID-19, analysts have been discussing what the world will be like after the pandemic. Many argue that the world order will be fundamentally different from what exists now. Some believe that a new world order led by China will be formed [Huang, 2020], while others foresee a bipolar world divided between the equally strong United States and China [Niblett, 2020]. There are predictions that the pandemic will put an end to globalization, aggravate nationalism, undermine free trade, and provoke a change of regimes in some countries [Jukic, 2020]. However, some hope that a new era of global cooperation is about to begin. In this article, the author attempts to prove that integration has good chances to receive a new impetus in the post-COVID-19 world and state leaders will see new incentives for integration.
The world changed by the pandemic will most likely not be radically different from what it was before. The pandemic and response measures taken by states have revealed and confirmed fundamental characteristics that are explicable within the framework of the two major paradigms of the international relations theory – liberalism and realism. Based on these methodological paradigms, we can assume that the crisis will not be a turning point for the world order, but only an intermediate position before a final stop to which international policy has been moving over the past decades.
The current global system was formed after the collapse of the USSR, and it is characterized by the term “End of History” introduced by Francis Fukuyama to designate the victory of democracy and globalization. At the same time, in his article “The Clash of Civilizations”, Samuel Huntington depicted the ideologically opposite world order characterized by the presence of mutually antagonistic “cultural-ideological centers”. In the beginning, the concept of the “End of History” was dominant and everyone welcomed globalization. However, various local and global crises have led to the gradual growth of uncertainty in the world about the right path of development, and the position of “End of History” and globalization supporters weakened. This uncertainty spurred the political forces, which can notionally be called “new populists”. They have publicly questioned the beneficial effects of globalization and interdependence. In recent years, “new populists” have risen to power in a number of countries. At the same time, populists are harshly criticized by the global intellectual community, which advocates further liberalization in politics and economy around the world.
The victories of “new populists” have gradually begun to change the world in the direction of more sovereignty, with the world divided to “Us and Them”. According to the “new populist” argument, sovereignty is more efficient and secure for the countries compared with cooperation and interconnection. People are ready to vote for them because they agree that the solution to their basic problems should not depend on political and economic interdependence. At first glance, the pandemic has reinforced these trends, and security is dictating how to act. Hence, countries have closed land and air borders. The primacy of the state as an outlined territory have again become part of the discourse, and, from this perspective, deglobalization no longer seems an anomaly, but an irreversible process.
However, after a second look, we can consider interesting trends that give hope for cooperation. First of all, countries have not moved troops to borders and have not completely closed their territories from each other. On the contrary, countries are trying to find acceptable approaches for cooperation in the fight with COVID-19. For example, the leaders of the Central Asian states have regular telephone calls between each other. Even President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, who did not want to discuss the pandemic issue, has eventually introduced quarantine measures at the Tajik border after a series of telephone conversations with other Central Asian presidents [Sputnik, 2020]. Next, the Central Asian states and their partners continued a dialog in the framework of the Turkic Council and held an extraordinary summit meeting via videoconference to discuss cooperation in the fight against coronavirus [Turkic Council, 2020]. At the meeting, the parties showed a high level of understanding and agreed on practical measures, such as ensuring the free flow of goods across the Trans-Caspian Corridor and providing support to the citizens who remained in the territories of the Turkic Council member states by extending their stay beyond the permitted duration without any sanction [Turkic Council, 2020]. The EAEU Supreme Eurasian Economic Council also held an online summit meeting via videoconference [Eurasian Commission, 2020]. The union members discussed joint actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus and maintain economic stability on the EAEU space. At the same time, some Central Asia countries try to provide necessary assistance to their economically less prosperous neighbors: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has sent humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan has also sent aid to neighboring Afghanistan, while Turkmenistan has opened the border with Afghanistan, despite the confirmed cases of COVID-19 there, for the supply of food and fuel.
The pandemic has demonstrated certain effectiveness of some international institutions. The main authority in the fight against COVID-19 is the World Health Organization (WHO). In contrast to the WHO, the UN Security Council was not able to react to the pandemic situation efficiently and timely. This could be explained by the disagreements between the United States and China, which is the result of their tough informational confrontation [Lynch, 2020]. It should be noted that the UN Security Council had the experience of coordinating the fight against dangerous diseases. In particular, in 2018, the Security Council adopted a resolution to combat the Ebola epidemic. Perhaps, the WHO’s effectiveness in the case of coronavirus is related to its structure. Unlike the UN Security Council, the WHO is managed by international officials. They have citizenship, but their appointment is based on their professionalism, and their governments cannot supervise or control their work. Their neutral status and professionalism create authority and trust on the part of the majority of national governments. Therefore, most countries listen to WHO recommendations one way or another, trying to implement medical protocols that the WHO sends. It is noteworthy in this regard that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was invited to the summit meeting of the Turkic Council.
The WHO experience demonstrates the effectiveness of integration, joint struggle and combined efforts of all states. This independent international body tries to take into account the interests of all participants and seeks to provide equal assistance. Therefore, in the future, we can expect an increase in the status of international institutes that will be guided by the interests of all members. In addition, the WHO demonstrates that international staff can act and make independent decisions and this does not threaten sovereignty of participating countries. Besides, it shows that joint struggle strengthens trust between participants. It is very important, for example, for Central Asia, where a lack of trust is a significant barrier to integration.
The final argument for integration after COVID-19 is history. The applied history methodology [Crowcroft, 2018] gives some hints about the post-coronavirus world. In the 20th century, after both world wars, human society tried to create a multilateral organization to prevent a crisis. The first attempt was not successful as the League of Nations could not prevent World War II, after which the UN was created. This global pandemic is the largest crisis since World War II, and, based on the past experience, we can assume that states will be ready for collective work and for creating international institutes to help prevent a new crisis. We could expect reform of the UN Security Council, or, perhaps, regional organizations will strengthen their positions.
In conclusion, it is clear that the “new populists” will not disappear, and in some countries they will even strengthen their power using their efforts to overcome the crisis as a platform for reelection. However, the world will be at the epicenter of a severe economic crisis, and economic recovery will depend on joint efforts. Therefore, globalization may slow down, but will not go away and may even become more powerful.
Crowcroft, Robert (2018). The Case for Applied History. Retrieved from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/feature/case-applied-history. Accessed on 22.04.2020.
Eurasian Commission (2020) Results of the working meeting of members of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. Retrieved from http://www.eurasiancommission.org/ru/nae/news/Pages/14-04-2020-2.aspx. Accessed on 15.04.2020.
Huang, Yanzhong (2020). Xi Jinping Won the Coronavirus Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-04-13/xi-jinping-won-coronavirus-crisis. Accessed on 11.04.2020.
Jukic, Luka Ivan (2020). World Order in the Time of Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.insideover.com/nationalism/world-order-in-the-time-of-coronavirus.html. Accessed on 14.04.2020.
Lynch, Colum (2020). U.N. Security Council Paralyzed as Contagion Rages. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/27/un-security-council-unsc-coronavirus-pandemic/. Accessed on 14.04.2020.
Niblett, Robert (2020). How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/20/world-order-after-coroanvirus-pandemic/. Accessed on 13.04.2020.
Sputnik (2020). Tajikistan completely closed borders due to coronavirus. Retrieved from https://tj.sputniknews.ru/country/20200410/1031045511/tajikistan-polnostyu-zakryl-granicy-koronavirus.html. Accessed on 14.04.2020.
Turkic Council (2020). Leaders of the Turkic Council held an Extraordinary Summit on 10 April 2020 on Corona Virus Epidemy. Retrieved from https://www.turkkon.org/en/haberler/leaders-of-the-turkic-council-held-an-extraordinary-summit-on-10-april-2020-on-corona-virus-epidemy_1991. Accessed on 14.04.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Asset Ordabayev is a junior research fellow at the Eurasian Institute of the International H.A Yassawi Kazakh-Turkish University. He holds a BA in International Relations from the KarSU (Karahanda) from 2012. In 2014, he earned his Masters degree in International Relations the Kazak National University (Almaty). From 2014 to 2017 he worked at the Institute of World Economy and Politics as a foreign policy expert. The main research interests are the geopolitical processes on the Eurasian continent within the framework of the development of transport infrastructure, as well as the ongoing proces